Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo Inc. will be back at work a week or two after the birth of her son. Is she a bad mother? Is she setting an unrealistic standard for other female executives?
Something about this discussion that has exploded on every major news outlet in North America irks me. Why do I care if some women want to head back to work as soon as the baby has been popped out, the placenta removed, and the area wiped clean? Do I need women CEO's to be role models for my career and mothering choices?
For the third time this year the parenting pot is being stirred up. And we're all leaping forward with our spoons. The Conflict by Elizabeth Badinter over helicopter parenting and its negative impact on the achievements of feminism, the Ann-Marie Slaughter Can women have it all debate, and now Marissa Mayer. There seems no end to our willingness to turn mothering (because let's be honest, it's mothers who are being judged) into a diaper-slinging debate.
Let those of us perfect mothers with the definitive answers about what works and what doesn't, cast the first judgment-couched-as-advice. I'm guessing the only people not spewing forth on this topic are those who are working two or three jobs and don't have the privilege of leisure or maternity leave. That's the conversation we need to be having instead.
Being forced back to work after one or two or six weeks because your job is at risk or you can't afford to take unpaid vacation to cover it, is, in my opinion, bad social policy. Maternity and parental leaves serve us well as families and as a society. Forcing women not to return to work that quickly (is that really what we would want?), or judging them harshly seems a divisive waste of energy.
I agree that the burden of parenting still falls in great part to mothers, and that career vs. parenting choices are grappled with more often by women than by men. Yes, many more men than women rise to the ranks of CEO, and yes gender equity in education, employment and safety is still lacking.
But all of these mothering debates we've been having are not equity-focused. They are who's-the-better-mommy-focused and they assume a homogeneity of capacity, desire, and drive among women. Maybe there's a reason why Marissa Mayer is a CEO and I'm not. Maybe we are still unwilling to acknowledge the complexity of human nature, and the fact that historically-ascribed binary boxes have rarely served us well.
Much progress has been made in understanding the complexity of gender and sexuality. The continuum between male and female, gay and straight has a million points on it. Maybe in addition to wrapping our heads around the fact that the lives, rights and differences of gay and trans people need to be recognized and planned for, we should acknowledge that there are multiple ways in which women aren't the same, and don't want the same things.
If Marissa Mayer wants to go back to work this week (I'm guessing she's given it a little thought); If I want to stay home and breastfeed for six years -- who are you to judge me? Neither of us is wrong. The happiness and "success" of our kids is likely based on a few more factors than that.
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